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Goldstuck on Gadgets

Israeli high-tech impact deepens



At the recent Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the crowds at the Israeli pavilion signaled rising demand for the country’s high-tech, contrary to boycott attempts, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

The annual Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona earlier this month was notable for the sense of existing technology undergoing dramatic improvements, rather than for shiny new technology. As a result, much of the focus was not so much on gadgets themselves as on subtle innovations that give high-tech products greater utility and appeal.

This was most evident at the show’s Israeli pavilion, where 65 companies demonstrated the astonishing range of that country’s innovation. It was the most popular national pavilion at MWC, belying boycott efforts in some countries.

It is perhaps symbolic that attempts to boycott Israeli products in South Africa have focused on supermarket shelves, where agricultural products represent a literal and figurative soft target.

It’s become almost a clich√© that the communications tools used to coordinate such boycott activities relies extensively on Israeli technology. From predictive search to Internet voice calls, the DNA of modern communications is as Israeli as it is American, Scandinavian or Asian. Collaboration with Israeli high-tech firms by counterparts from the USA, South Korea, China and Japan, among other, means that this influence is not about to diminish.

For one not to use Israeli technologies in communication, you would most likely have to go back to smoke signals,” says Itai Melchior, head of the Trade & Economic Mission at the Israeli embassy in South Africa.

All leading handsets manufacturers, be it Samsung, Apple or other key players, have research and development centers in Israel. Almost all network operators around the world use some sort of Israeli technologies in their network. This is also true for companies like Facebook and Google, and technologies that secure online buying.

It was precisely the prospect of getting in on the ground floor of these kinds of formative technologies that drew delegates to the Israeli pavilion at MWC. The next Waze or Viber or Mobli – which received a $60-million investment from Mexican telecoms tycoon Carlos Slim a year ago – is likely to advertise itself most visibly at MWC.

Some already have the investment they need. Magisto, an artificial intelligence system for automatically editing family videos and photos into multimedia movies, has raised $23-million in Silicon Valley. According to partnerships vice president Sivan Barnea, it has 60-million users, who have made 120-million movies so far.

It’s easy to see the technology underpinning the kind of “life-logging” applications that are already being integrated with mobile phones: “The artificial intelligence looks into content, understands the main characters and which photos and parts of videos are important, slices it up and puts it together to create not only a movie, but a story, complete with labels.

She says uploads have increased by 10 per cent in just the last month.

We used to say video is the next big thing but, in the last 90 to 100 days, it’s here.

New ways of creating and presenting content seemed pervasive. Comigo, a multi-screen TV platform for personalised experiences of pay-TV, and wakingapp, which allows anyone to create augmented reality content, aims at this industry sector from entirely different perspectives. They underline just how many opportunity gaps remain not only in high-tech in general, but also within specific categories. Either of these two could see their solutions become industry standards in coming years.

In the same way, technology used by social data mining company Correlor may well become a default for customer intelligence analytics. Says vice president Daniel Peled, echoing a company slogan, “Understanding the user is the next currency.

A different take on that concept comes from IsItYou, whose CEO Benjamin Levy enthusiastically demonstrates a new technology for biometric identification using only a standard smartphone and his app.

We’ve developed an effective facial recognition technology for mobile that provides strong security that is both user friendly and actually works,'” he says.

A company called i4drive has developed a driving app that monitors the road as well as analysing the driver’s own safety levels. In this way, it almost trains one to become a better driver, while also enhancing the overall driving experience – on a normal smartphone.

At the other end of the vehicular environment, a mobile parking payment solution called Parking+, from Milgam Cellular Parking, will probably inspire less consumer delight, but is regarded as a step closer to the smart city of the future.

Could any of these be the next Waze, the Israeli crowdsourcing navigational app bought by Google for $966-million? Not all are in it for a quick exit.

Essence has been marketing its machine-to-machine “connected living” solutions for home care of the elderly for 15 years. Suddenly, however, it’s a hot brand as its technology turns out to be ideally geared to the Internet of Things and its integration with home healthcare.

Gilat is a Nasdaq-listed network infrastructure company that is well-known for the solutions it develops for emerging markets. At MWC, director of product marketing Doreet Oren shows off a new “small cell” technology called CellEdge. It can be used to roll-out a 2G or 3G network in two or three months, allowing network operators to extend their reach into rural areas very quickly and at a fraction of what it would have cost before.

In the past the solutions were always done with huge overheads and very expensive systems, including power supply, air conditioning, enclosures, and guards,” says Oren. “Now you have a fully outdoor solution that works with solar panels and lightweight towers. Suddenly, there is a business case for networks in rural areas.

Entrepreneurs are already taking advantage of it, like in Western Canada and Alaska where there is not a lot of coverage but a lot of tourists on the highway, and they don’t have connectivity. Someone saw a real opportunity, and it’s already deployed and making money on roaming changes.

That, ultimately, is the bottom line of much of the communications technology coming out of Israel. It not only represents opportunity for these exhibitors, but also for anyone who finds creative ways of taking it to other markets. Right now, there is no shortage of takers.

* Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee, and subscribe to his YouTube channel at